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By Roberta Avery - back to list
COLLINGWOOD - Ever since her first job as a busgirl when still at school in Kitchener, Andrea Greyerbiehl had dreamed of running her own restaurant, so when the upscale Collingwood restaurant Azzurra came up for sale in early 2003, she was determined to buy it.
Greyerbiehl had worked for the previous owners and knew it was a good business, but her youthfulness was a huge hurdle to overcome.
â€œThe problem was that I was only 26 and no bank would look at financing me,â€ she says.
Then a family member came to her rescue.
â€œMy granny financed me at a very good rate of interest,â€ she says.
With the experience and passion for good food that she had gained working in restaurants in Banff, Alberta before moving to Collingwood, Greyerbiehl continued to develop the restaurant's reputation for great food and professional service. When a slightly larger premises became available around the corner in the fall of 2005, Greyerbiehl didn't need too seek financing when she decided to move the restaurant.
The side entrance leads to an appealing vestibule and I later learned that the grand doors and chandeliers were rummaged and refinished from an old house in Toronto and the push plates originated from the Gayety Theatreâ€™s entrance. Little windows in the same area were salvaged from Greyerbiehl's grandparentâ€™s farmhouse near Waterloo before its demolition.
The dining room is intimate and attractive with a pretty floor of Terra Cotta tile and deep blue walls enhanced by artwork provided by Collingwood Level Gallery, which is co-owned by Greyerbiehl's husband Paul Mantrop.
As soon as we saw the appetizer menu at Azzurra we knew that we were in for a real treat. There were 11 tempting selections making it hard to choose and in the end, we shared three of the appetizers, the Caesar, the goat cheese terrine and the onion and Cambozola cheese tart between us.
The Caesar was traditional in style with a hint of anchovies and capers and plenty of garlic in the perfectly balanced dressing and topped with lots of shaved Parmesan cheese and bacon, the terrine was very creamy and the presentation was spectacular with layers of portobello mushrooms and red peppers topped with a basil drizzle. While these items were tasty, we all agreed that it was the cheese tart that was the fantastic taste sensation. The caramelized onions and the Cambozola (a combination of a soft cream cheese and Gorgonzola) and the perfect pastry melted in the mouth with the sweetness of the onions offsetting the sharp taste of the cheese.
We had heard that Leona Nyman, the new chef at Azzurra had not only apprenticed in Italy but had also worked at the famous Toronto bakery, Bonjour Brioche and at the Toronto Four Seasons so we eagerly anticipated our main courses and hoped there would be room for dessert.
Paul and Lisa chose pasta from the eight varieties on offer and were not disappointed. Paul had the Fusilli with chicken breast, roasted red peppers and fresh arugula basil pesto, and while our knowledgeable server Sarah Slater advised him the portion of chicken was small, he found it more than adequate and enjoyed the smoky flavour. Lisa chose the Bolognese, which was made from tasty lean ground veal served on a bed of whole wheat spaghetti and found the portion generous enough that she was able to take home half of it for the next day's lunch.
John chose the seafood stew and was thrilled to find his plate overflowing with plump shrimp and scallops, mussels, clams, fish and calamari in a white wine broth. Knowing that Nyman had apprenticed in Italy, I chose the Osso Bucco as this is my favourite Italian dish when it's cooked in the traditional way. The veal shank was fork tender with a rich flavour enhanced by tender root vegetables and the accompanying wild mushroom risotto.
With a wisdom that belies her years, Greyerbiehl knows that the main courses at Azzurra are filling so she has worked with Nyman to come up with a dessert menu that includes â€œa tiny taste of sweet.â€
So for just $3 you can enjoy a scoop of gelato or sorbet or for $5 a â€œlittle cappucino crÃ¨me brulee.â€ Also on offer is a to die for Tiramisu (full size portion) that is so good that we were pleased it was full sized and the same goes for the melt in your mouth lemon tart that has just the right amount of lemon tartness.
We all had to drive that evening so for wine we shared a half litre of house white wine and a half litre of house red which were served Italian-style in jugs, but we were impressed with the extensive wine list that includes some top wines from Italy, California and Canada.
Greyerbiehl later explained that wine specialist Dylan Hagreen, who is working toward becoming a sommelier, had recently joined the staff at Azzurra and had helped her expand the wine list and was helping to train the wait staff.
Dinner at Azzurra is a wonderful experience and it was clear that with a first class chef and knowledgeable and professional staff in the front of house, Greyerbiehl certainly seems to know a thing or two about running a restaurant even if the banks thought of her as too young.
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